The Treasure of 1914

018I found an old coin in the oddest of places at the oddest of times.

I was working with my litter abatement crew close to lunchtime in one of the more impoverished neighborhoods in our area–not impoverished enough to be dangerous, but not affluent enough to warrant well-manicured landscaping. We were picking up cigarette butts and bits of candy wrappers, almost at the end of the job, when I saw something circular and flat in the dirt.

My first thought was to move on, leaving it there. It was encrusted with dirt and grime and who-knows-what-else, and after an hour on litter abatement there is very little I feel like picking up off the ground for any reason other than to toss it in the trash. Even wearing gloves, my hands feel contaminated. To pick up something nice with those gloves? And then to put it in my pocket? Doesn’t happen.

But one of my crew was attracted to, well, almost anything–shiny things and coins in particular. Even though this wasn’t shiny, there was always the chance that he’d pocket it. No one is happy when he comes home with random things in his pockets. So I picked it up, quietly, while he was occupied with something else. I couldn’t tell what it was, but it seemed about the size of a 50 cent piece and I could see the date: 1914.

Once I got home, I did some research and discovered that what I found is a 1914 British penny. There’s a lot of cool information at that link, but the long and short of it is that there were about 51 million of them made so they’re not terribly rare and not terribly valuable.

But the question remains: what was a World War I-era British coin doing at the corner of a mini-mart parking lot in a disadvantaged part of town?

Was this part of a homeless person’s collection, a reminder of better days and treasured hobbies?

Was this a fairly worthless gift to a young child who viewed it as an exotic treasure before he or she accidentally dropped it on the way to buy candy?

Was this, as was suggested by The Boyfriend, a coin dropped by a time traveler? (Specifically: “Perhaps Dr. Who dropped it while surfing the time-space continuum when he last parked his Tardis to snag tacos at [famous local taco truck].”)

Did it accidentally make it into someone’s change jar, only to be discarded on the street when it was discovered (since British pennies don’t really buy anything here)?

What kind of stories can you come up with that involve the historical aspects of money?

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A Bloodborn Carnival of Creativity

Lately I’ve been pondering, of all things, bloodborne pathogens and what are generally known as “universal precautions”. It’s come up because of trainings at work, so it’s not entirely my odd brain.

(If you’re not familiar with this, eHow has a good quick overview.)

My odd brain, however, is interested in what other things we could contract from other people’s blood. Why does it always have to be nasty stuff like hepatitis and AIDS?

Why can’t we contract antibodies to everything the other person has fought off? (“Blood from someone who’s had all of this year’s colds and flu: $50”)

Why can’t we contract genetic traits? (“Tall: $30. Good skin: $75. High metabolism: $150. Thick eyelashes: $20”)

Why can’t we contract bits of personality and neurological abilities? (“Olfactory synaesthesia: $50. Perfect pitch: $75. Dreaming in color: $20”)

Can you imagine the craziness of a world where you could contract artistic creativity…and depression? Where plastic surgery was outdated but changing your appearance was as easy as getting blood from a shop–or a friend? Where all the traits and abilities of anyone in the world could parade through your body?

Today’s challenge: Imagine a society where bloodborne abilities are being shared. Write a character who jumps into this lifestyle and a character who has reservations. What does each one keep or gain? What pitfalls and barriers does each experience? How does your personal view on this influence your characters’ experience?

Choose: Lone Wolf or Team Player?

My company had our annual Employee Barbeque yesterday.

Last year at this time, I’d been working there for mere weeks. I listened to everyone talk up the event, getting hyped with them over descriptions of bouncy houses and facepainting, grilled food and cotton candy.

When the time came to join last year’s event, though, I found it massively disappointing. I wandered around the parking lot looking for familiar faces and trying not to let on how lost and lonely I was.

This year it was completely different. I went on a bouncy house (avoided the mechanical bull, though), ate sno-cones and popcorn, piled a plate with grilled veggies, chatted with coworkers and met new family members.

The difference?

Community. I now knew these people. I knew people from other branches. I’ve been in the trenches with them for the past year. Some of my coworkers have moved on to other departments, making an event like this a great time to catch up with them.

It made me think about the importance of community in writing. Some of the best stories include vibrant, connected community–think of Harry Potter with his stalwart friends, the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, the X-Men, almost anyone in any Charles de Lint story, Thursday Next’s circles of Spec-Ops and literary cohorts, or Mal’s crew on Serenity.

And then there are the iconic loners.

Community, or lack of it, plays a huge role not only in the tone of the story but in the formation of the characters in it.

Saturday’s challenge: come up with an existing character and flip his or her community around. Some examples could be setting the Doctor set into a group of (healthy, functioning) Timelords, or watching one of Snow White’s dwarves making his way in the world alone. What does this character’s world (and internal landscape) look like now? How would this character’s life and personality have been different if they’d had or lacked this all along?